By Alexander Maistrovoy
The Bible has always been and still remains to this day the main book of humankind; its storylines, conflicts, and heroes are the source of inspiration for the greatest philosophers, fiction writers, playwrights, musicians, and artists, even if they renounced both God and his book. The Bible is part of our lives, the foundation of our outlook, and the cornerstone of civilization. Like communists, those who hated it were the hostages of the biblical prophesies, quest for perfection, harmony, and universal unification. Biblical heroes became the characters of dramas, which provided the basis for world literature. The idea of ruthless antagonism of not just passions, like in the ancient Greek tragedy, but universal good and evil, submission to a great servitude, self-sacrifice and righteousness, intended purpose and freedom of choice—all this originates from the main book of humankind. Michelangelo and Shakespeare rose to the heights of the Bible, measuring themselves on biblical heroes, and earned themselves eternal glory this way.
But what does the Bible represent in itself, from beginning to end, if not a splendid permanent provocation? And the main provocateur is the Creator himself.
He, the Creator, placed Adam and Eve into the Garden of Eden. They were like children who didn’t know evil, and they remained blissfully ignorant. However, their bliss was tainted by a strange ban: they were not to taste the fruits of the tree of knowledge. Disobedience is fraught with a terrible penance. All parents know that, when they strictly prohibit their children from taking some action, they thus provoke the children to commit the forbidden, as there is nothing more desirable than the forbidden fruit. But the Creator did not limit himself to this: he placed into the Garden of Eden with its wonderful and touching creatures a dangerous and sly thing—the snake of temptation. From then on, Adam and Eve had no chance. The forbidden fruit was alluring in itself, but the demon, whose spells these naïve creatures were unable to resist, was tempting them in every possible way. And when they, in their simplicity, succumbed to temptation, they attracted all possible punishments from the Creator who did not forgive his children for the wrong step he had plotted. In other words, parents ban their children from touching a much-desired candy and then have some characters wave the very candy under their very noses. And then they descend onto the children in a fury when they are unable to resist temptation. All normal parents would call these actions convoluted sadism.
But this is just the beginning. The sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, made sacrifices for the Creator. Abel, a cattle breeder, sacrificed the bullocks of his herd, and Cain, a farmer, sacrificed the fruits of his first harvest. Once again, let’s try this situation in ordinary human life. Two brothers who love their father in equal measures give him presents, putting into these gifts their devotion and soul. A normal father, no doubt, would accept the gifts of both sons favourably, praising them for their zeal. Our ‘father’ followed a different path. He accepted the gift of one of his sons and rejected the gift of the other. Is there a better way to arouse mad jealousy and bitter resentment in a child than by acting in a similar way? All parents would give a straight answer to this question. They know that, by pushing away one child, they would deeply hurt that child’s feelings, and the consequences could become fatal. But the ‘heavenly father’ was deaf to the voice of heart and mind. He unjustifiably rejected the gift of the hapless Cain, causing him pain and desperation and thus pushing him to fratricide.
The same provocative story in different variations is reproduced in the numerous consequent Biblical plots. Ham, one of the three sons of Noah, was subjected to an appalling provocation against his will. He accidentally saw his father ‘naked in his tent’ and told Shem and Japheth what he had seen. This caused fury in Noah and Ham’s brothers. Ham, the victim of a dreadful coincidence, was cursed, as were his descendants in the person of Canaan and his children. In the Biblical interpretation, Ham was the progenitor of the African nations doomed to the lot of pariahs from then on. ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant’ (Genesis 9:25–27). In the modern-day Europe, as well as in Islam nations nowadays, Ham’s ‘sin’ is viewed as the justification of the acts of atrocity towards black people, including slave trading.
The plot of the building of the Towel of Babel is a story of intentional subdivision of children into the ‘languages’, tribes, and peoples. Deprived of the possibility to understand each other, people were doomed to unavoidable quarrels, wars, and conflicts. From then on blood and suffering became the fate of humankind, who became disjointed and steeped in prejudice. Would a loving father govern his numerous children under the principle ‘divide and rule’? And who is he in this case—a loving father or a cunning despot?
We are all ‘the children of Abraham’. But with some of his children our progenitor was not very merciful, and the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael is the evidence of this. Hagar, the servant of childless Sarah, Abraham’s wife, gave Abraham a son, and when Sarah miraculously became pregnant, the poor servant and her child were banished from the house to the desert. The result is known. Ishmael, as we know, became the progenitor of Arabs: ‘He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen’ (Genesis 16:12). Today we watch as this story externalizes itself. It is not surprising with such a history.
As we know, Abraham’s descendants were also doomed to suffering, and also through the will of their Creator. Two sons of the ancestor Isaac—brave hunter Esau and timid Jacob—lay an equal claim to their father’s blessing. Esau was the elder brother and deserved the blessing based on his personal traits. Moreover, he was the favourite son of Isaac. However, the trick of Jacob, who made his hungry brother swap his right of precedence for lentil stew, aided by his mother, Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, led to the blind Isaac mistakenly giving his blessing to Jacob, who was considered to be the progenitor of the Jewish nation. Esau, who was associated with Rome and the Christian church, was unjustly wronged and deprived of his share. He took revenge on his brother, and this revenge was brutal. Jacob turned into the founding father of the ‘chosen people’ and, at the same time, became a wanderer, persecuted and scared of his own shadow. This was an ingenious provocation—to drive a wedge between brothers because of their father’s blessing with the purpose of turning the younger brother into an eternal outlaw and the elder one into a ruthless, evil-minded persecutor.
Time and time again we coming across the situation of the Father provoking discord and jealousy between his children. ‘Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him’ (Genesis 37:3–4). This hurt leads to a blind hatred. A favourite child becomes the object of jealousy and fury of unloved children. Brothers threw Joseph into a pit and then ‘sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver’ (Genesis 37:28). Joseph ended up with the Egyptians and became an advisor of the pharaoh. This is how the intrigue was woven that devolved into a new round of drama and a new provocation, the culmination of which becomes the Exodus.
The Exodus from Egypt story is a blatant and absolute provocation of the Maker. The Creator did not just free his people from Egyptian slavery. He deliberately ‘hardened the heart of Pharaoh’ in order to demonstrate his strength, ‘multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 7:3). Visiting Egyptians with all kinds of woes, the Creator plunged the Egyptian kingdom into a catastrophe. Jews left Egypt, but Egyptians lost their firstborns, their fields and cities were devastated, and the country was plunged into darkness. This was the triumph of the higher power at the expense of the pitiful creatures it gave rise to.
He, a loving and caring Father, hardened the hearts of the high priests of the Sanhedrin and the crowds, foredooming his ‘Son’ to death. He, the all-powerful and virtuous Father, knew that the execution of the ‘son of God’ would turn into woes and suffering of His people in the centuries to come, but He was inexorable. As such was his intention, his plan, which had no room for compassion, but only a cruel and cold calculation, was to give a new impulse to the human tragedy, not allowing his creation to hold still and not encouraging its development.
Thus, through suffering, anger, hurt, and pain occurs a constant progression, a continuous development that does not and cannot have a happy ending as there is only a relentless fight with short intervals between the ordeals sent from above.
But there is yet another sinister factor—the Creator does not only spur His creation into action, He also tests it to the limit, as if checking, like a researcher in a lab, for a boundary of the unthinkable for His creations. At any rate, three significant Biblical stories are proof of this theory.
Abraham loved his son from Sarah—little Isaac—with all his heart. Here the Maker arranged a grand provocation. He asked of the patriarch to sacrifice his beloved son. This was a terrible alternative. Abraham had to choose: renounce the demand of God with whom he had made a covenant, or kill his heir. The old man chose the second option and was ready for the sacrifice. At the last moment, the Maker saved Isaac and Abraham himself from the unthinkable mission, demanding instead the sacrifice a sheep that was tangled in the tree branches. This was a cult plot from the Bible which became an essential part of, not just Judaism, but also Christian culture. But how conceited must be the all-powerful Father in His ambition to master human will be if he presents his righteous servant with such a dreadful dilemma!
The second, no-less-appealing plot is about Rachel’s ordeals. In Mesopotamia, saving himself from the wrath of enraged brother, Jacob met Rachel, Laban’s daughter, and fell in love with her. But the ending of this plot is far from happy. First, Laban puts into his bed Rachel’s elder sister, Leah, whom he had disguised as Rachel, and then the Creator himself subjected his children to agonizing trials: ‘When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren’ (Genesis 29:31). From Isaac, Leah, who was suffering from her husband’s indifference, gave birth to practically all the progenitors of the Jewish tribes, and Rachel at this time experienced the agony of despair: ‘She pleaded with Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I’ll die!’’ (Genesis 30:1). In desperation, she takes the last step: ‘So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob went in to her’ (Genesis 30:1–4). The Creator’s daughters suffered beyond measure, each one in her own way, but He, so it seems, only revelled in their pain.
And Job’s story crowns it all. Job, as we know, was ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil’ (Job 1:1). He did not give the Creator any reason to doubt his deep and sincere faith. And then the ‘heavenly Father’ made a deal with the devil—Job had to pass the test. He was deprived of everything: riches, faithful servants, beloved children. Friends withdrew from him, he was struck with leprosy, his body turned into one big abscess. He spent his days in stench and manure. Job bore fiendish ordeals, and, finally, he was forgiven and rewarded. But there had been a deal with the devil aimed against the beloved son. What could characterize the world of the Demiurge (or Creator), this calculating and even mocking experimenter, any clearer?
Humankind was created in true likeness of the Maker. People even behave in His image and likeness. He was full of thirst for power. He fit the surrounding world to suit himself. He tested others and asserted himself at their expense. His goals were dubious. Even if they were virtuous, this virtue would inevitably be followed by evil. And this paradigm—good which gives rise to evil—persecutes humankind eternally and universally, from the micro-level of family dramas to the macro-level of the ideas’ history.
English philosopher Bernard Mandeville wrote:
‘They that examine into the Nature of Man, abstract from Art and Education, may observe, that what renders him a Sociable Animal, consists not in his desire of Company, Good-nature, Pity, Affability, and other Graces of a fair Outside; but that his vilest and most hateful Qualities are the most necessary Accomplishments to fit him for the largest, and, according to the World, the happiest and most flourishing Societies.’
Provocation as an engine of human progress? Isn’t this the actual plan of the Demiurge?
Author of books “Gnosticism through the Prism of the Third Millennium: Or between God and the Creator”, Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.